Uniform-ity

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I had a friend in college who had a dilemma. She was in charge of the placement of students in her progressive non-profit. It was part of a great program where students could earn a real college credit by doing real work for real student orgs.

One of the people my progressive friend interviewed was really excited about the work, had some relevant experience and a lot of energy. The problem? She was wearing a pink, crew neck, shetland sweater monogrammed with her initials and, even if not actually wearing a string of pearls, she sure seemed to be. She was preppy or, at least, she looked it.

We fighters for right derided the fraternities and sororities. They were experiencing a resurgence after a decade of withering at a very progressive campus. Folks working on economic and environmental justice, consumer choice and fairness literally had nothing to do with the Greeks on the hill. We didn’t go to the same parties. Didn’t hang at the same bars. Ate from different troughs. I’m sure that they were in some of our classes, but there was an unspoken demarcation in the classroom. Defined by their uniforms.

So the preppy young woman didn’t belong in our organizations. And my friend, from an eastern boarding school background, was torn. She wondered if Pinkie was worth the risk. I remember looking down at myself. Plaid flannel shirt, worn Levi’s and hiking boots with fat lugged soles. My friend had the same garb. Men and women on the reformist left, all wearing the same uniform.

What we wear, our hair, jewelry and makeup choices, is part of our identity and part of our communities. It can help us find other members of our tribe. And it can also shut us out from others who we don’t recognize, or worse, folks we assume we won’t like.

There was a discussion spawned by a piece that Barnard College president, Debora Spar, wrote in the NYTimes about her tribe,

a particular subset of the city’s elite — the powerful women of a certain age, mostly from the news media and politics. The men wore Hermès ties and as much hair as they could muster. The women were uniformly thin and dressed in short dresses, usually black. A Clinton was spotted and appropriately fawned over…”Every…woman there was over 60 and yet there wasn’t a wrinkle to be found. They all looked great, but so similar!”

Spar writes how she fights with herself to be herself and not fall into the trap of chasing youth through hair colouring, botox, nips and tucks. The discussion part included women who belong to a different tribe, like this 72-year-old retired pediatrician,

I don’t know what circles she moves in, but the wonderful, talented women that I know and work with do NOT go in for tummy tucks and Botox. A few colored their hair for a while (I did not), but most have realized that hair with no gray looks pretty silly on someone with significant wrinkles.

It is clear that Dr. Retired does not know Spar’s circles. She clearly moves in another. And is quick to judge from her spiral of natural hair. I bet some in those NY elite circles would think her frumpy or wonder why a woman of her caliber just let herself go.

Another commenter, Ms. Seventy from near Harvard, actually nails the issue, albeit backwards and inadvertently.

Ms. Spar’s is a problem, perhaps, for folks who go to white wine kiss-kiss parties. For many of the rest of us, age brings a welcome opportunity to opt out of the youth-oriented, body-perfection vision of beauty. When I go to the theater in Santa Monica, Calif., I’m the only woman of my age with gray hair. In Cambridge, Mass., at 70, I look pretty much like the rest of my age mates.

Yes, Ms. Seventy, you are correct. As you note, there are different tribes and different standards. But then you go and get all judgey, too. Lemme ask you this, why do you think that looking the way that YOU want to look is better than how your buddies in Santa Monica or Spar’s elite NYC colleagues want to look?

It’s just different.  Go ahead, wear your uniform with pride, but don’t deride the other team’s.

And for those of you who got this far and were wondering, whatever happened to Pinkie? My smart friend selected her. Pinkie turned out to be a most excellent contributor to the cause and a recruiter for others in her home tribe. She taught us all. A lot.

Don’t Be Mad With Science

Trinity College Library in Dublin. A spiral staircase to the books.

Cancer is an awful scourge that makes people we love suffer. The rat-bastard disease rips people we love out of our lives. Stupid cancer makes people into angels when we aren’t ready to let them go, when we should be with them. Nobody likes cancer. It makes people worried. And sad. And mad. And scared.

Charlatans and money grubbers who prey on the fears and hopes of people with cancer–and I’m including family and almost-family as having cancer because cancer is a “we” disease–those cons suck almost as much as cancer sucks. Maybe more.

Cancer is indiscriminate. It doesn’t select hosts based on age, gender, race, religion, income, social status or whether you prefer the Yankees or the Red Sox. The predators actually do focus on the victims. The saddest. The most fearful. Those who are desperate. Maybe they are worse than cancer. They have intention.

I read a NYT piece about drug companies that are selling their wares directly to sick people. The author of the article was triggered by the sunny promises of a better cancer through, in this case, immunotherapy. I get how gutted the surviving spouse felt by seeing the skewed promises of a therapy that might help a little. Or maybe not at all. And to the grieving family, I am so very sorry for their loss and the “cheery” reminder of their anguish via a TV commercial during a sporting event.

I am in riotous agreement that the direct to patient marketing of drugs is ugly. It sells us solutions that many of us do not have the ability to evaluate. And it interrupts the relationship with caregivers.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, people who knew me well, and some who knew me less well, would nod and smile and opine about my internet research learning all the ins and outs of the disease and the treatment. I couldn’t share the nod. Instead I shook my head.

Like my two weeks on the internet would make me know more than a board certified oncologist and otolaryngologist who were professors at the medical school? I dunno. Didn’t make sense to me. I made the decision that my medical team was as good as I could get, given the hand I was dealt.

I decided to trust the experts.

Now, if I thought they were bozos, I would not. But then why would they be my doctors? I live in a major city. I have choices–including five major cancer treatment centers. My guys were smart, compassionate and great communicators. They presented options. I asked a bunch of questions. The Spouse asked plenty. Even the Big Guy chimed in. I quickly made a choice of treatment that made sense. This was really hard because the cancer made no sense, making the sense-making itself inimical.  And dammit, Jim, I’m DocThink not Doctor of Medicine. I studied as best I could, and then selected their recommendation. I threw in with them.

For me, it turned out okay. For my friend K, it didn’t. For my friend T, it did. For my other K friend, we’re thinking it will. For my MIL, no. For my Dad, yes (it wasn’t C that took him). For M, yup. I’m sure that you can add your own set of initials to the tally.

But here’s my thing. Looking at the comments on the NYT post disparaging the blood-sucking, players-of-people’s-worst-fears-for-money drug companies, there is a significant thread of people hating ANY cancer treatment. Chemo = bad. Radiation = criminal. Surgery = butchery. Immunotherapy = mumbo jumbo.

But these therapies have worked for many of us. Either getting rid of the shitty cancer, or giving people time in months or years with their families. I am terrified that people will reject the expertise of people–doctors, nurses, scientists–who are trained and committed to curing or, if that’s not possible, ameliorating cancer.

My doc told me that he had three goals for my treatment. 1. Keeping me alive. 2. Ensuring the best quality of life. 3. Making me look as good as possible. In that order. He did all three. He presented me a novel treatment that would not have been in the internet results. But he had a robot and he wasn’t afraid to use it. And I believed in him, as he believed in me.

The science and the practitioners aren’t the bad guys. They’re not perfect. They’re the first responders, fighting the terrorism of cancer with us. Not against us. Let’s call out anyone who’s taking advantage of us, but let’s not put a single blanket of shame on the entire medical profession. We can trust science, and verify as well as we can. And may the odds be ever in your favor.

When Thinking Doesn’t Count

Ooogie Boogie from Nightmare Before Christmas

Charles Blow writes today in the New York Times about head versus “heart.”

This underscores the current fight for the soul of this country. It’s not just a tug of war between left and right. It’s a struggle between the mind and the heart, between evidence and emotions, between reason and anger, between what we know and what we believe.

This conflict was captured in a tit-for-tat between Obama and Rush Limbaugh. In an interview with CBS this week, Obama complained about the “vitriol” coming from the likes of Limbaugh: “I think the vast majority of Americans know that we’re trying hard, that I want what’s best for the country.”

Limbaugh shot back on Friday, “I and most Americans do not believe President Obama is trying to do what’s best for the country.”

And there it was. Obama’s language focused on what people “know,” or should know. He seems to find comfort in the empirical nature of knowledge. It’s logical. Limbaugh’s language focused on what he thinks people “believe.” Beliefs are a more complicated blend of facts, or lies, and faith. And, they can exist beyond the realm of the rational.

And this is the part where I get really scared.

You see, I am a thinking person. I will look at facts. I will look at data. I will follow the trail. If I am worried about the provisions in the health care bill, I will read them for myself. And, I will change my mind when I am wrong.

Here’s the scary part. There are many–and truly not all–people who are strongly against health care (really insurance) reform who are just making stuff up. These people are making stuff up all the time. They are in an alternative reality. Where birth certificates from a sovereign state are suspect and there is a great and evil communist-nazi conspiracy.

And the left, we are going with logic. And facts. And thoughtful arguments. If people only understood–the President seems to be saying–they would support.

They have the boogie man. Boogie man wins over thinking man.

Keep an eye on the elections. Thinking people need a new strategy.

Wrong Headline, Wrong Story

In the ongoing effort to make the 2008 Presidential Election all about race and increase readership or ratings or something, today’s Washington Post has the inflammatory front page headline “3 In 10 Admit to Race Bias” and chronicles the trouble Barack Obama is having in getting the (play dramatic music) White Vote.

If you read on to paragraph 9 on the second page, you will discover what I found to be news. That is, Democrats running for president have been having trouble with the (play dramatic music) White Vote for the past few election cycles–and according to the article, this trend has been going on since Jimmy Carter ran in 1976.

This is hardly the first time a Democratic candidate has faced such a challenge — Al Gore lost white voters by 12 points in 2000, and John F. Kerry lost them by 17 points in 2004 — but it is a significantly larger shortfall than Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton encountered in their winning campaigns. — Wash Post

Somehow, though, the Post acts like Obama is having a problem with the (play dramatic music) White Vote because he is black. That’s not what I see in the data.

Hey Post, I think that if you actually read your data–to make it easy I made a graph with a trendline–you would agree that the story is either

  1. Dems have been in trouble with white voters for a while, OR
  2. Obama’s race doesn’t seem to be having much of an impact on the voters–so far.

The Post piece is NOT good thinking.